the m john harrison blog

Month: July, 2008

neoteny lobotomy

A reader asks:

“Uncle Zip, what shade is ‘neoteny pink’ (Nova Swing) & can I get it?”

Yes, reader, it is easy to get if only you follow one simple rule. Evolution, as many admit, sometimes proceeds by retention of juvenile characteristics in the adult form: but neoteny pink is not like that. It is a pure cosmetic color experience you will love. In short, it is the you’re alive! shade of pink we all want to copy. (Also seen in some industrial plastics.)



Jonas wakes up and the world is empty. What is happening ? Is this a disaster, or only a disaster for Jonas ? His fantasies–now that they can be fulfilled in an empty world–now that he’s “free” –reveal themselves as ordinary. All Jonas really wants is that the world be dependable & right again. But there’s not much chance of that: in Night Work, Thomas Glavinic has decided to collide Michael Haneke’s Hidden with Surveillance Saver. More on this novel.


Lara Pawson draws my attention to a “sci fi and speculative” edition of Chimurenga. Meanwhile Lara herself has a chapter in Rasna Warah’s anthology Missionaries, Mercenaries and Misfits (it originally appeared in Radical Philosophy). & I’m off to Helsinki tomorrow for the run up to FinnCon. When I come back from FinnCon I am going to see Tim Etchells’ neon “Wait Here” at Butcher’s in Royal College Street. Then I am going to the Gower Peninnsula to solo about on easy stuff while the tide comes in. It’s what FOGs do.

skeleton keys of the rain

Unconvinced by Nova Swing, a friend asks me, “Are you happier than before, or something ?” The Course of the Heart, she says, scared her stiff. “This book doesn’t scare me at all.”

I answer that I don’t think it’s happiness. But I’m definitely less angry than I was. “Also,” I remind her, “The Course of the Heart was supposed to scare you to death, which Nova Swing isn’t.” Then I read this journal entry from 1990, when I was finishing The Course of the Heart, & realise I’m neither the 45 year old who wrote it, nor the 20 year old being described–

Driving to Oxford I glimpsed a single figure on the hard shoulder of the motorway, silhouetted at the top of a long rise against the grey sky full of distance. All that had happened was that his car had broken down half an hour before, & now he was walking back to it from the AA phone box. But the weather was bad, & in the right circumstances a figure like this, hunched up, hands in pockets, can quickly take on an air less of temporary defeat or dejection as of acceptance. He looked displaced. It’s too easy for me to construct such figures–whose nerves aren’t actually anaesthetised, whose affect is not yet numbed, who are still alive although, just for now, in a reduced way. The personal landscape they inhabit, that of being forever between events, is one of my favourites. When I was twenty I tried to occupy it permanently. I honoured all tramps, refugees, losers, & displaced persons you might meet and subsequently adopt in 1966 in the warmth of the all-night launderette, Holloway.

I’ve been at least one other person since then, but he’s gone too, along with his shadowy others.


I loathe Rudyard Kipling for the obvious reasons, yet I’ve read “They” four or five times since 2004, & I’m increasingly fascinated by Adam Nicholson’s narrative (in Perch Hill) of Kipling at Bateman’s. I’m trying to understand what I might be hearing–or what, at least, I might be trying to listen for–under the sentimentality & bad poetry.

You should never ignore a prompt like that, even–or especially–when you have no idea what it’s trying to tell you.


The bird calls here get stranger & stranger. Sometimes I wonder if I’m in Stoke-on-Trent at all. I sit & count our mosquito nets, while aircraft lug themselves into the air above me like suitcases full of cheap new clothes. Yesterday evening there was a wedding in the courtyard. The bride & groom processed slowly to their decorated chairs, where they were soon surrounded by the traditional circle of softly-glowing camcorder screens.

& speaking of helmets

Here on the third floor of the Ambiente Hotel Retirement Unit we barely remember last week, let alone 1979, so Brian Cropper’s pic of the novice MJH grinding up Mississippi Variant on Stanage is a valuable aid. Helmets, de rigeur now, had just gone out of fashion then; unless you were on a proper mountain, or in some really quite collapsing quarry, all a helmet announced about you was: I’m a bumbly. But I’d paid for it & I wore it religiously until Brian finally persuaded me to give it up towards the end of that year. Instant relief. Note the hard rubber EBs & chalk bag the size of a bucket. These days, eight year olds probably use that route as an easy way down, wearing loosely-fitted floral wellingtons.

There’s also this great shot of Loz Francomb freeing Constable’s Overhang. Three or four people took turns belaying while he fell off it repeatedly for an afternoon, then once he’d done it none of us could follow. I think it was raining for some of the time too; but it was always raining back in those good old days, when many climbers still adopted the weather-beating DH Lawrence look.

& because I never do anything more agitating now than walk to the end of the garden, here’s the Southern Hawker I found there yesterday morning–

A Storm of Wings–written mostly in 1979–comes to Barnes.

don’t watch the movie without your helmet, darling

Andrew Pulver has a point here until he runs out on it & effectively turns his own piece into a coffee table conversation. It happened to books across the same period. The reading group & literary festival select for clever, nuanced, unchallenging product. It’s a process of flattening. There’s no point blaming the publishing industry for this when art fiction’s great enemy is its own careful, self-protective, self-selecting audience–sensibly slim, nicely educated & wearing their special protective clothing to go out for their bike ride. Who knows, maybe everyone’s getting a bit bored playing safe ? Elsewhere, Sternezine runs an Amazon one-star reviews edition. I particularly enjoyed the Sebald commentary. Last but not least, since the Guardian is being slow to run my Lovecraft review, here’s the man himself, interviewed by WPA newsreel in 1933. He supposes that his work is “intended to fill the gap science has left in the place which was occupied in years past by religion. In that vacuum, we have to entertain ourselves. Our imaginative creations are our faith now.” He hopes these creations will save “New England civilisation”. Clearly an accomplished expressionist, he already looks dead as well as a bit of a fish.


A website for The Broken World.

a castle of perseverance

Andrew McKie’s obituary for Tom.